Russel Wright: Creating American Lifestyle


Matter Practice

Practice Area


Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Project Vision

The first major retrospective of the 20th Century designer who revolutionized the American home followed Wright’s career from his early experience as a theatrical set designer to furnishings and dinnerware to his highly influential “Guide to Easier Living,” a textbook for increased domestic efficiency. The challenge was to create an environment that was evocative of Wright’s spirit and emphasize the domestic nature of his work. Visitors were greeted by a large table set with nearly the complete range of Wright’s many dinnerware lines, surrounded by reproductions of line art drawings commissioned by Wright to illustrate his ideas on informal yet gracious meals. Each adjacent room was treated as a distinct place, chronologically presenting a phase in Wright’s career. Exhibition graphics took their cue from the “Guide to Easier Living” with banks of color and illustrations used contextually, while case-work incorporated plastic laminate and Micarta – both materials Wright championed. As Wright was one of the first designers to have his signature grace the back of dinnerware pieces designed for manufacturers, it was only fitting that the show’s banner signage be his mark, writ large over wood paneled Victorian walls.

Project Details
This installation on the work of the 20th century designer who revolutionized the American home provides a perfect foil to the heavy and dark Victorian environment of the Cooper-Hewitt's galleries, formerly Andrew Carnegie's mansion. The various stage sets highlight the diversity of Wright's projects and successfully evoke theatricality. A wonderful addition is the audio component: an endless loop of the sounds of a cocktail party playing in the background. Materials such as plastic laminate, Micarta, crazy-cut slate, and even existing parquet floors of the museum all wed to great advantage and reflect an era when the American home and the products used within it were looked at from a conscious design standpoint.
Juror 1
Design Team

Sandra Wheeler (Principal in Charge, Matter Practice), Alicia Cheng, Yve Ludwig (Exhibition Graphics, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum), Donald Albrecht (Curator)

Design Firm

Matter Practice


Anita Jorgensen Lighting Design


Scott Wilhelme (Production Manager Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum)